INDIAN WELLS, March 10, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
When Canadian teenager Felix Auger-Aliassime beat fellow #NextGenATP star Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-4, 6-2 in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells on Saturday afternoon, he earned his first Top 10 win.
Suddenly but not surprisingly, the #NextGen Auger-Aliassime has become a #NowGen sensation.
The 18-year-old wild card from Montréal gave a master class for everyone gathered inside Stadium 1 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden to appreciate, most of all Tsitsipas. Simply put, the 58th-ranked Auger-Aliassime was on fire as evidenced by his rocket-speed forehands and solid backhands that often left Tsitsipas stunned in his tracks.
“My level was good, but I didn’t feel like I was playing over my level,” said Auger-Aliassime during an interview with American TV broadcaster Tennis Channel following his breakthrough victory. “My energy level was good.”
Auger-Aliassime, who started 2019 ranked 109th, saved all seven break points he faced against the World No. 10 Tsitsipas. By the end of their one hour and 17 minute match, the 20-year-old Greek who arrived in the California palm desert on the heels of winning the Open 13 Provence in Marseille, then reaching the finals of the Dubai Duty Free Championships last month, was humbled.
Indeed, Saturday was all about Auger-Aliassime, the youngest player in the ATP Top 100. He came into his showdown with Tsitsipas sporting a fresh haircut that he revealed was a treat to himself following his first-round win over Cameron Norrie of Great Britain on Thursday. Although this was their first tour-level head-to-head, Auger-Aliassime had beaten Tsitsipas all three times they faced each other in juniors.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect,” said Auger-Aliassime. “I didn’t expect to win that way. But I believed in myself. I was able to impose my game like I did in the first round, and that’s it.”
Get used to seeing winners like this 👌
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) 9. März 2019
Whether or not it’s fair to blame Tsitsipas’ performance on fatigue, he came into the first Masters 1000 tournament of the season having already played in 20 tour matches. His impressive 15-5 win-loss record had lifted him to his best career ranking, but his sixth loss – and second consecutive defeat after losing the Dubai final against Roger Federer – was a disappointment.
“My mind at the moment is not very fresh,” Tsitsipas said during his post-match presser, as quoted by the ATP Tour website. “I feel like I had enough of tennis already, but still doesn’t mean anything. I mean, he deserved that victory. He won it by himself. I didn’t give it to him.”
Last year at Indian Wells, Auger-Aliassime became the youngest player – at only age 17 – to win an ATP Masters 1000 tournament match. Now, he’s advanced to the third round in his first hard-court tournament in a while after reaching his first ATP Tour final in Rio, which was followed by a quarterfinal finish at São Paulo, both on clay. So far, the transition is working just fine and his methodical rise in the rankings, in which he will likely move up to the Top 50 after his impressive showing so far, is causing others to take notice. It started in 2016 when he was a junior Grand Slam champion and continued the next two years when he won nine Challenger and Futures titles. Recently, he clinched a Davis Cup tie representing his home country of Canada.
Following Auger-Aliassime’s big statement win against Tsitsipas, New York Times tennis columnist Christopher Clarey tweeted:
It’s no news flash at this stage when it comes to Felix Auger-Aliassime. But what a talent. Dismantling the solidly constructed Stefanos Tsitsipas on center court at Indian Wells
— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) 9. März 2019
Meanwhile, Auger-Aliassime is enjoying his time at Indian Wells while not having to worry about many points to defend. However, as he told Tennis Channel’s Jon Wertheim, “I don’t want to think too much ahead, on points and results, and how my ranking is going to go at the end of the year. I’m playing real good right now and I’m trying to enjoy that and go as far in the tournament as I can.”
Now, with Auger-Aliassime and fellow #NextGen ATP Denis Shapovalov doing well, too, Canadian men’s tennis has a great future – and that’s great for the sport.